Erik D. Harshman
I should start off by saying that I’ve been a rabid Jungle Rot fan since 2005 (when I discovered, after the fact, Dead & Buried and Fueled By Hate). I then became the kind of fan who buys their albums the day they come out, sit and listen to them immediately, read and study the lyrics and dissect each song from several different angles of analysis.
In my opinion, Jungle Rot is the kind of band that deserves, and whose music is prime for, such treatment.
With that said, I am a bias critic. Jungle Rot, simply put, does not make bad albums in my opinion. My favorite of theirs thus far being War Zone, with Dead & Buried (musically speaking), Terror Regime (lyrically speaking) and Kill On Command (both lyrically and musically speaking) following. Sure, I dig a handful of songs from Fueled By Hate (a lot of songs on that album, actually) and What Horrors Await, but those albums (especially the later) had to grow on me in order for me to fully appreciate them.
And then there is Order Shall Prevail, Jungle Rot’s third album with Victory Records (which many of their fans probably considered a strange move, as they are traditionally a punk/hardcore label, the irony therein I’ll get to in a minute).
Now, before I dissect Order I would be remiss if I didn’t identify a few key elements shaping Jungle Rot’s music in the last few years, and certainly over the last few albums. First, their focus on social issues and politics has become infinitely more prevalent and has (thankfully) overshadowed, even fully eclipsed, their former “gore-metal” lyrics (that so often define death metal). Second, their signature breakdowns (seen to great extent, I would say, on songs like “Immersed In Pain”, “Gasping For Air”, “Ambush”, “Straight-Jacket Life” and “Blood Ties”) has become scarcer and scarcer. And while Jungle Rot is still one of the grooviest death metal bands out there, their affinity for crunchy breakdowns (a musical technique that, for a while, they nearly owned, but had certainly perfected within their specific genre) have sadly, for whatever reason, waned. This may be due to the fact that some metal snobs (as they are known to do) have accused ‘Rot of becoming “a hardcore band” due to their affinity for groovy breakdowns. Though I’d wager ‘Rot simply chose to explore other musical avenues, rather than believe that they succumbed to the gripping of a handful of close-minded purists. And, finally, vocalist Dave Matrise (one of my favorite vocalists in metal today) has refined and shaped his vocals to a point where nearly every sentence that is growled, uttered and bellowed can be readily identified and discerned.
Jungle Rot’s themes, as far as I can identify, have always been the futility and dehumanization of war; the morally reprehensible behavior of the elitist upper classes and the detrimental effects of a government more concerned with control and domination than fostering a prosperous nation. As with their presumed contemporaries (Misery Index, Dying Fetus, Napalm Death and, sometimes, Six Feet Under) in this area, Jungle Rot’s politics are decidedly left wing and grossly intolerant (much to my joy) of the right-wing mentality and its short-sided nature.
With that said, despite Terror Regime’s lack of breakdowns and direct song definition (I have to listen to the album to remember what harmony defines each song), the lyrics are what made it the album of 2013 for me. For Order Shall Prevail, it is both the lyrics and the music that make this album (unquestionably) the metal record of 2015 for me.
Upon my initial listen (and analytical read-through of the lyrics), I was worried that Jungle Rot had fashioned a concept album, surrounding a dystopian America ruled by a tyrannical government. This worry cooled as the album went on and I began the realize that, like the films of George Romero, the brilliance in this piece of art stems from its duality: you could look as it as a concept album, showing you a fictional dystopian society or (as all good dystopian fiction does) the listener could look at it as a potential warning, that the events spoken of could indeed transpire if steps are not taken to correct them.
With that said, there is no other way the album could have opened than with “Doomsday”, a testament to Matrise’s (and perhaps the band as a whole) intolerance of the human race and their social and moral ineptitude. The song also marks the return of the Jungle Rot signature breakdown (which, as with Kill On Command, only makes a few appearances throughout the album).
We then transition to the song that they used to promote the album, “Paralyzed Prey”, which was pre-released on YouTube. This song is signature Jungle Rot, with all the groove and brutality we’ve not only come to expect, but that we seek specifically from Jungle Rot, as they know their craft so precisely.
“Blood Revenge”, despite the thrashy opening licks, is one of the few songs on the album that does not readily define itself musically. Lyrically, however, the song touches on the band’s apparent infatuation with war and how it is so ingrained in our cultural psyche that it has permeated our existence since our more “primitive” tribal days (just look at the cover art for Kill On Command for further proof of the band’s tribal infatuation… An infatuation they share with guest vocalist Max Cavalera).
“Fight Where You Stand” is a strange song for me. Its musical definition comes from its guest vocalist (Max Cavalera… An inspired choice, as Max is mainstream, but still has underground cred… The former of which I’d like to see ‘Rot acquire, the later of which they already have in spades). Lyrically, this song troubled me for a bit. At first it seems to reek of xenophobia and to be aimed at (what America has dubbed) our “enemy” across the ocean to the East. However, I am sure, after repeated listens and analysis, I will find a suitable perspective hidden within the song, much as I have with many other ‘Rot songs whose lyrical content at first befuddled me.
The title track is another testament as to why Jungle Rot has survived some twenty-one years. The music is fast and churning, like machine gun fire, and the lyrics speak of noble peaceful protest mowed over by an uncaring, and violent, oppressor. It causes one to wonder if, in such a situation, ‘Rot would choose the righteous path of non-violence (which they clearly admire), or succumb to more animalistic impulses (which they seem to despise, though write about with great clarity and fervor).
“The Dread Pestilence”, sadly, is another song without much definition for me. True, the groove of the song is undeniable, though repetitive; the lyrics simply fell flat for me, for whatever reason. The apocalyptic imagery seems somewhat redundant, as the rest of the album paints a more realistic picture of humanity gone (even more) septic. Perhaps it’s the song placement: putting this song at the end (and, therefore, prophesizing the end result of the other actions and scenes contained on the album) might have been a wiser choice.
And then there is my favorite song of the album, “I Cast the First Stone”. Musically the song is strong, with its forceful punk-influence march, but it is the lyrics that speak directly to me. The song is clearly about the uneven nature (socially and financially) of society and its sickening effects on humanity; how good-natured people suffer under the uncaring, oblivious elitism of a bourgeoisie who perpetuates negativity and squalor in an effort to maintain control and personal gain. Anyone who is not pulling in six figures a year (which, let’s face it, is most of us… surely it is most metal fans) can relate to this song and should use it as their “marching music” as they drive (or walk) to work each day. It is the type of song revolutionaries play as they are just about to burn down the mansions of their persecutors. This song speaks to me the way “I Don’t Need Society” and “Pronounced Dead” (from Terror Regime) spoke to me.
“E.F.K. (Eat Fuck Kill)”, while, for me, failing to make any notable musical impression, lyrically reinforces “Doomsday” by taking a more direct approach to ‘Rot’s intolerance of humanity and the redundant behaviors it gleefully exhibits.
“Trench Tactics” is musically notable for the reason that it contains the album’s second breakdown, but is lyrically a rather complex song. Again, I am torn as to the song’s true meaning. Superficially, it reads as a pro-war song. Though, upon further examination, I think (like many of ‘Rot’s songs) it is an attempt to show the preciousness and gravity of each human life lost and how careless that is often glossed over when looking at war (and victory) as a whole. Is it an anti-war song? I think so. But one that, intelligently (as ‘Rot does everything), portrays this by showing war through the eyes of a single soldier, who laments “needless slaughter” and wishes the rest of his platoon safety and victory as he slowly dies.
Finally, “Nuclear Superiority” is a blistering death metal track. The groove is undeniable and the poetic lyrics are nothing short of brilliant. The song even contains a line that could very well serve as the thesis (as ‘Rot sees it) for war in general, “No peace and no one wins”. Norman Mailer would have commended such a lyric. Although, again, I worried slightly that the second verse, which directly identifies “rouge states and terrorists” as the song’s antagonist, spoke of xenophobia and our nation’s current resentment towards Middle Eastern threats. But in the end I have to realize that, as with nearly all of ‘Rot’s songs about war, there is a large amount of objectivity taking place here: terrorism (like war) is subjective. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Just as with war: everyone on each side of the fence thinks that they are right; they all lose precious lives and nothing is truly resolved.
With this in mind I have to detach my preconceived notions and concerns regarding ‘Rot’s socio-political perspective and simply realize that they are a group of highly intelligent, angry, yet strategic and immensely talented guys who view the pitfalls of humanity in ways no other band does. And for that reason, amongst many others, their work deserves the kind of scrutiny and examination as I have given it above.
When ‘Rot puts out a new album, follow my lead: read the lyrics, study them, memorize the musical choices they’ve made and how those choices sync with the lyrical content and the message. And don’t lament the time spent doing these things… Jungle Rot is worth it.
Final score: 4/5 stars (B+/A-)
Recommended If You Like: Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Napalm Death, Pro-Pain, Six Feet Under